NASA-supported solar sails have the potential to take science to new heights

As a NASA expedition Continuing to push the boundaries, the new solar sail concept chosen by the agency for development for demonstration missions has the potential to take science to new destinations.

The Diffractive Solar Sailing Project was selected for Phase III research in the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Phase III aims to strategically transition the concept of NIAC, which has the potential to have the greatest impact on NASA, other government agencies, or commercial partners.

“When we step into space more than ever, we need innovative, cutting-edge technology to drive our mission,” said NASA’s manager. Bill Nelson.. “NASA’s innovative advanced conceptual programs help unleash visionary ideas like new solar sails and bring them closer to reality.”

Like a sailing ship that uses the wind to cross the ocean, solar sails use the pressure exerted by sunlight to propel the spacecraft. Existing reflective solar sail designs are usually very large, very thin, and limited by the direction of the sun, creating a trade-off between power and navigation. Diffracted light sails use a small grid embedded in a thin film to take advantage of a property of light called diffraction. This spreads the light as it passes through the narrow openings. This will allow spacecraft to use sunlight more efficiently without sacrificing maneuverability.

“Exploring the universe means we need new tools, new ideas, and ways to get to new places,” he said. Jim Reuters, Deputy Director of NASA’s Space Technology Mission (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Our goal is to invest in these technologies throughout our lifecycle to support a robust ecosystem of innovation.”

The new Phase III award will provide the research team with US $ 2 million over two years to continue technological development in preparation for future demonstration missions. The project is led by Amber Davill of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“NIAC can foster some of the most creative technological concepts in aerospace,” he said. Mike Lapointe, Program Executive Deputy for the NIAC Program at NASA Headquarters. “Our goal is to change the possibilities, and diffractive solar sailing promises to do just that for many exciting new mission applications.”

Diffractive light sailing extends the capabilities of solar sails beyond what is possible with missions under development today.The project is led by Amber Da’Ville Researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The feasibility of the concept was previously studied under the NIAC Phase I and Phase II awards led by Dr. Grover Swartzlander Of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, which continues as a collaborator on the project. In previous awards, the team designed, created, and tested different types of diffractive sail materials. We conducted experiments and designed new navigation and control schemes for potential diffractive light sail missions orbiting the Sun’s poles.

Working in Phase III will optimize sail materials and perform ground tests to support this conceptual solar mission. The orbit through the Sun’s North and South Pole is difficult to achieve using conventional spacecraft propulsion. Lightweight diffractive light sails propelled by constant pressure of sunlight place the constellation of the scientific spacecraft in orbit around the poles of the sun to deepen the understanding of the sun and improve the weather forecasting function of the universe. I can.

“Diffractive solar sailing is a modern take on the vision of light sails decades ago. This technology can improve many mission architectures, but requires the unique solar observation capabilities of the solar physics community. We are ready to make a big impact on our sexuality, “says Dubill. “Our team wants to combine expertise in optics, aerospace, traditional solar sailing, and metamaterials to enable scientists to see the sun like never before.”

NIAC supports visionary research ideas through multiple progressive stages of research. NASA announced a selection of 17 Phase I and Phase II proposals in February 2022. NIAC is funded by NASA’s STMD, which is responsible for developing new cross-cutting technologies and capabilities needed to accomplish current and future missions.

Source: ANI NASA-supported solar sails have the potential to take science to new heights

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